Trying something new this week. Used the silly photo below as inspiration to create a short story. Hope you enjoy it.
Lottie and Clara didn’t like the looks of the new neighbor. He must have moved in late one night when no one was looking because suddenly, on the third Tuesday in May, there he was peering up at the sky, long slim fingers shading his dark eyes from the glare. As if that wasn’t strange enough, ever since he’d arrived Clara had a melody playing inside her head that just wouldn’t quit. All day and all night a string of familiar notes rang in her ears. She couldn’t place it and she couldn’t get it to stop. No way to prove it was his fault of course, but the only alternative she could think of involved Clara losing her marbles.
Also, there was Lottie’s obsession with the new neighbor’s feet.
A drought had hit the town the likes of which Clara had never seen before. Flowers once spanned the block blooming with lush abandon. But now the sun scorched everything leaving little behind. The bruised roots running deep beneath the soil gasped for breath waiting for the rain that never came. If you listened hard you could hear their cries everywhere, in Fran Crosby’s wilted rose garden, in the parched skin of Ben Slovak’s oak tree. Clara had to blow her nose in a hanky every time she caught the sound wailing through the wind.
Despite the heat, Lottie insisted on gardening. She’d even sent away special for drought resistant bulbs. Clara told her she’d been duped. But she kept at it, the dizzy old broad. One day, as Lottie dropped bulbs in the dusty earth the new neighbor strolled over, barefoot of all things. He paused in front of her tapping his naked beast of a foot, discoloration under the nails and a tiny tuft of wiry hair curling up on the big toe. Clara kept a close eye on him from her chair in the shade.
The gentleman patted his stomach. “Ladies, I’ve ingested something with difficulty and I’m feeling a bit queasy. Might I trouble you for some bicarbonate?”
He spoke like a man unaccustomed to hearing words come out of his mouth. Clara went in and fetched the tin. When he offered to bring it back, she shook her head. “Nah, you keep it,” she said, wary of a return visit.
“They were green , I tell ya,” Lottie said weeks later. “Rotted green flesh. Decayed under the nail. Gave me the willies.” The old woman shuddered, wrapping the shawl tighter around her shoulders.
“Lottie, I swear, one more word about that man’s feet and I will dump this bottle of sherry on your head,” Clara said, wondering if she could drive out to see a specialist about the sound in her ears without anyone noticing.
Their unwelcome visitor started leaving small clay pots out on his lawn. Clara peeked into one of them. Shriveled brown blossoms floated along the surface of a murky green fluid. She gave the pot a nudge with her foot. A suspicious bundle tied with twine bobbed to the surface. What kinda witch doctoring was this fella up to? She leaned in to get a closer look.
“What do you think has caused this unfortunate blight?” the man said appearing out of nowhere.
“The drought, you mean?” Clara said, attempting to look innocent of poking her nose where it didn’t belong. “The way I see it, we stopped thinking about the world, and the world stopped thinking about us. But what do I know? I’m just an old lady with more opinions than teeth.”
“Excessive age can be a benefit,” he said grabbing a fistful of dirt and rubbing it between his fingertips.
Excessive age? He was one to talk. Clara glanced down at her hands now littered with brown spots. She’d played the piano in her youth. Pretty good at it, some said. But life got noisy and she stopped playing. Now, she wasn’t fit to perform chopsticks.
“But surely the land sustains itself without human attention?” he said.
“I don’t know. Sometimes things just can’t find their way back,” Clara said smoothing out the flesh on the back of her wrinkled hands. “Is that why you’re here, about the drought? Or, do you have some other business in town?” She looked up but the man had already wandered back into his house, leaving her unanswered questions trailing behind.
A few days later the melody continued to push on the back of Clara’s eyes. Why couldn’t she remember it? She was going crackers for sure. Suddenly, Lottie flung open the kitchen door. “You are not going to believe this,” she said, trying to catch her breath. “Clara, we are living next door to a tulip-eating madman with green toes.”
“What are you talking about?” Clara said.
Lottie’s hands trembled as she poured herself some sherry, draining the glass. Apparently on her way back from buying foot powder in town their new neighbor suddenly stumbled out his backdoor practically falling into Lottie’s arms, and coughing. “Not any ordinary kind of coughing, either,” Lottie said. “Remember Breezy Carlson’s cat? The one with the hairball? It was that kinda noise, only deeper and more raspy.”
Clara gave Lottie that look. The one that said, is this going to be one of your stories where you take twenty minutes to tell me all sorts of stuff I don’t need to hear?
Lottie ignored her, continuing to describe this historic coughing fit until she finally ambled over to her point. “So he gives one final shudder then it flies out of his mouth and lands right in front of my feet.”
“What does?” Clara said wrinkling up her nose.
“A perfectly formed yellow tulip blossom.”
“You’re pulling my leg, right?”
“Hand to god Clara, hand to god,” Lottie said. “This explains why my flowers haven’t sprouted.”
Clara rubbed her aching temples. “The only thing stopping those tulips from growing is the damned drought.”
There was an insistent knocking at the kitchen door. “Madam, please,” the man’s muffled voice said. “Let me in.”
Lottie opened the door and glared at their neighbor the-tulip-snatcher. “I know what I saw, I’m on to you Mister.”
“Your imagination has gotten the better of you, I’m afraid,” he said, walking into the kitchen.
Clara put her head in her hands and tried to concentrate.
“The minute I saw those green feet of yours, I knew you were trouble,” Lottie said.
“It’s just a fungus, I assure you,” he said.
“I have a mind to talk to the town council about you,” Lottie said.
“Sonata in G Major!” Clara shouted jumping up from the table and knocking over her chair.
“Have you gone insane?” Lottie said.
“Probably,” Clara said. “But it’s still Scarlatti’s Sonata in G Major.”
The visitor from next door stared at her, his eyes unblinking. All the windows in the house suddenly rattled.
“Was that?” Lottie said.
“Thunder?” Clara said.
Another rumble, larger this time, followed by the once-familiar flash of–
“Lightening!” Lottie shouted, running to the window and yanking open the curtains. Clara’s eyes remained pinned to the man standing in her kitchen. A small smile twitched across his lips. “Come on!” Lottie said, dragging her out the door and into the yard.
The storm clouds throbbed, expectant. Just a staccato sprinkling at first, but then the rumbles grew into a crescendo of big fat glorious raindrops. Clara closed her eyes, smiling. Deep in the earth the sweet sound of joyous plants rang out. As she spun round arms outstretched, Clara’s wet grey curls clung to her cheeks. She didn’t care that her best friend drank too much sherry and planted bulbs in the middle of Sahara-heat, or that the man next door had green toes and coughed up tulips, or that she was probably coming off her spool; it was raining, and the plants were humming a Sonata in G Major, and that was all that mattered.
The next few days buzzed with activity. The rain had brought relief to the whole town. When her tulips began sprouting Lottie paraded around like a proud peacock. She decided to report the news to their neighbor and let him off the hook. But he had disappeared.
Ben Slovak, who sold real estate in town, came by to admire the tulips. When the ladies asked Ben what had happened to the man next door, he seemed confused.
“Oh, you know, Mr. Whatshisname,” Lottie said. “Tall man, redhead, about forty-five?”
“No,” Clara said, giving her a look. “His hair was silver and he was about seventy.” Ben had no idea what either woman was talking about The heat had kept the renters away for months.
Later that afternoon Clara noticed a tin of bicarbonate sitting on the piano. Inside, she discovered a folded piece of sheet music. Clara shook her head and opened the keyboard lid. If this was what being an old crackpot looked like, she might as well go with it.